For as long as I can remember I’ve loved computers and computer technology. Some of my earliest memories are sitting behind a glowing green or amber screen, marveling at what these machines could do.
During my teens and twenties I relished every new release, every new upgrade, every new feature (Linux! Warcraft! PDAs! Geocities! Slashdot!). Sometimes there were some rocky starts, but I believed computers made everything better! You could buy any book, immediately, and online, whenever you wanted (and then you could buy anything online)! You could meet new people, learn about everything, and laugh with your friends about dancing cats. It all seemed so hopeful, so promising; I was so optimistic.
In my early thirties I started to get less enthusiastic. More and more of the “new” stuff was getting bought up by huge corporations and either immediately shut down or neutered into a listless malaise. The frontier was being settled.
And then things really turned the corner, and suddenly every new piece of computer technology is a vessel for trading personal information for neuronic addition of some form.
And then social media came along, and destroyed the world in its wake.
These days, I find myself reading every new headline with skepticism, doubt, or dread. Cool new helpful device? Probably spying on us all or contributing to a new ecological disaster. Cool new piece of software? Probably comes at the cost of destroying something that was better so that the owner can sell more ads. New computer? More restrictive than the one that came before it.
Part of this is surely just getting older and being cynical, and perhaps a fair bit of rose-colored tint to the past. But even taking all that into consideration, it’s clear that computers have not only made the world better. In many ways, they’ve made it much worse. Powerful tools used to bring about the ends their masters desire.
At one point computers really were bicycles for the mind — tools that augmented us at a human scale. Today, too often, they are ICBMs of the mind — radical tools with intense power used to destroy us.
We need more bicycles, and fewer bombs.